Tenants in UK fear being evicted if they press landlords for repairs

Tenants in the UK private rented sector are not pressing landlords to carry out repairs to their home over fears they’ll be evicted, new research has found.

Some 41% of tenants, the equivalent of 1.85 million households, have waited longer than they usually should for their landlord to carry out a repair in the last four years, according to the report from charity Citizens Advice.

At best living in a home in poor condition is an inconvenience but at worse can impact on people’s health. Problems can range from a broken window or hot water outage, to leaks and dangerous electricals, it says.

In the last year Citizens Advice as helped people with more than 16,000 problems around private rented sector homes in poor condition but it points out that landlords in the private rented sector have a legal responsibility to fix problems in a reasonable time, usually a month or less, or 24 hours for the most serious cases.

When tenants wait longer than is deemed reasonable a court can order a landlord to carry out a repair, or award financial compensation. In some cases they’ll receive both.

But findings from the It’s broke, let’s fix it report show renters aren’t holding their landlord to account because of concerns they could lose their home. Some 57% of tenants who could get compensation said they didn’t want to force the issue with their landlord for fear of being evicted.

It also found that 51% were concerned that their landlord would increase their rent if they continued complaining.

One way renters can make sure their landlord carries out a repair, while also protecting themselves from eviction, is by obtaining a notice from their local authority’s Environmental Health Team.

But this is only granted when there’s a serious health and safety issue, such as an electrical hazard or a structural fault, leaving renters with more minor issues unprotected from retaliatory action by their landlord.

Tenants are also shunning other options for redress because of the cost, time and complexities involved. Only 1% of people who could get compensation take their case to court.

Rather than pursuing the issue with their landlord or taking formal action, the Citizens Advice survey found tenants take matters into their own hands, with 30% carrying out repairs themselves and 14% paying for repairs out of their own pocket.

One family who asked Citizens Advice for help had spent £10,000 of their own money fixing a range of issues in their home, including a broken heating system, after repeated complaints to their landlord failed.

Citizens Advice is calling for better protection against retaliatory evictions by rolling out independent complaints bodies, or ADR schemes, across the private rented sector.
Only 0.005% of private rented homes are covered by an independent ADR scheme so Citizens Advice wants the Government to make membership compulsory, and tenants to be guaranteed protection from losing their home while their case is looked at.

‘Renters should be able to ask for repairs to their home without fear of retaliation. Homes in poor condition are the most common private rented sector issue people turn to Citizens Advice for help with,’ said Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice.

‘Issues such as broken fittings, faulty electricals or leaks can make life hard for renters and can even lead to ill health. But renters aren’t pursuing their rights to repair because they are worried their landlord will put up their rent or evict them. To add to this, formal routes to redress aren’t being used either because they’re too difficult and expensive,’ she explained.

‘Rent is the most expensive costs households face, but protections for renters simply don’t reflect this. The new Government needs to make it easier for people to have their rights enforced when their home is in poor condition. The redress process also needs to give renters protection from retaliatory action, so they feel confident reporting a problem in their home and don’t feel like their only option is to dip into their own pocket,’ she added.

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